Genentech Goes Public

October 14, 1980 was a wild day at the stock market. The Los Angeles Times called trading that Tuesday “a frenzy the likes of which hasn’t been seen on Wall Street since the go-go days of the 1960s.” That morning, Genentech issued a million shares of stock in its Initial Public Offering (IPO), at an opening price of $35 each. Within an hour, the stock—for those who got their hands on it—leapt to $88 a share, closing at $71.25. The Wall Street Journal called it “one of the most spectacular market debuts in recent history.”

Genentech—trading then under the symbol GENE—was the first biotechnology company to go public, and set the pace for a series of heady biotech IPOs that defined the era. Co-founder Bob Swanson later said the decision was made not only because the company needed money to continue developing its technology and medicines, but also because it wanted its IPO to set the tone for the industry, which was attracting new players. “We had been setting the standard on the science,” he said. “We wanted to set the standard as a public company.” Genentech indeed led the way for others to follow. Today there are around 300 publicly traded biotechnology companies in the United States.

Swanson attributed the IPO’s success to the public’s fascination with the emerging field of genetic engineering at that time. “It was the kind of technology that can capture people’s imaginations,” he said. “You had people say, ‘We’ll put this stock in the drawer for our grandkids. This is something for the future.’”

Genentech is no longer traded under the GENE symbol and the statements in this story do not describe the company’s current stock market presence under the Roche Group. U.S. investors interested in investing in the Roche Group or Genentech can learn more here.

Quotes from Robert A. Swanson, "Co-founder, CEO, and Chairman of Genentech, Inc., 1976-1996," Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.